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What are natural hazards?

Natural hazards are atmospheric, Earth or water processes that may damage people, property or other parts of the environment. Many of the effects of existing and predicted natural hazards are made worse by the location of human settlement. Communities spring up on plains, terraces and dune systems that have been created by natural hazards such as floods, earthquake faulting, wave action and changes in sea level.

Natural hazards in our region

Natural hazards are a constant threat to the Waikato region because it has:

  • many areas of coastline exposed to erosion and flooding
  • waterways and low lying plains vulnerable to inland flooding
  • high rainfall in the Coromandel Peninsula, at Waitomo/Kawhia on the west coast and in alpine areas of the Tongariro National Park
  • three volcanic zones
  • many active faults
  • about 20 per cent of our region’s population living on soils prone to movement during an earthquake
  • about 43 per cent of our region is prone to soil erosion.
  •  The main natural hazards that are recognised in the Waikato region are:

    • coastal flooding
    • river flooding
    • earthquakes
    • erosion
    • landslides
    • volcanic activity
    • geothermal activity
    • sedimentation – through river flooding and landslides
    • subsidence
    • weather (such as wind and rainfall)
    • tsunami (giant coastal waves)
    • drought
    • rural fires
    • debris flows

What Waikato Regional Council is doing

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) gives regional councils responsibilities for:

  • identifying hazards through the resource consent and regional planning processes
  • ensuring risk assessments are undertaken if further site-specific research is required to clarify the level of risk
  • preparing and implementing risk mitigation plans such as site-specific risk mitigation strategies for high-risk areas. These hazard-specific policies include our:
    • Flood Risk Mitigation Plan
    • Earthquake Risk Mitigation Plan
    • Coastal Erosion Risk Mitigation Strategy
    • Coastal Flooding Risk Mitigation Strategy
    • Volcanic Risk Mitigation Plan.
  • providing information on natural hazards to the public
  • providing early warnings of natural hazard events
  • supporting district councils by providing up to date regional hazard information for land use planning.

In addition to the RMA, the new Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002 places further emphasis on the identification of natural hazards and the risks associated with them. Waikato Regional Council is part of the Waikato Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group.

Early identification of hazards by Waikato Regional Council combined with public education will help people in the Waikato region make informed decisions on land development options that avoid the risk from hazards.

Our Regional Hazards team aims to identify, collate, analyse and provide regional scale hazard information to stakeholders, the general public and Civil Defence Emergency Management agencies. Our main goal is to ensure the risks from hazards are reduced over time and that sound decision making results in respect to current and future development of hazard prone areas. The team is involved in everything from flood warning, to oil spills in our oceans.

Effective hazard planning shapes the places where people live, work and play. It plays a key role in supporting Waikato Regional Council’s strategic direction for supporting sustainable communities.

Other Waikato Regional Council initiatives include:

  • The Peninsula Project - designed to protect the Coromandel Peninsula from frequent flooding, protect land, improve biodiversity and reduce pests, improve water quality, stabilise streams and rivers and protect estuaries and harbours.
  • River and rainfall level information, which is available on our website and through our 0832 InfoLines phone service.
  • Working with the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) based at Wairakei in the central North Island to prepare for possible earthquake and volcanic activity.

Land use planning for natural hazards

Land use planning for natural hazards - stewardship for the future is one of a series of CAENZ comments on issues of topical importance to New Zealand.

Natural hazards impact significant numbers of households, businesses and farms annually in all parts of the country.

  • Between 1984 and 2004 over $100m was paid out in flood-related insurance claims in New Zealand.
  • The Ministry for the Environment projects that there could be a 2-3 fold increase in the frequency of flood events based on climate change models.
  • EQC receives over 1000 landslip-related claims annually.
  • In 2008 the value of consents issued for residential buildings alone was $6.2 billion.

In order to lower our risk exposure in the future we need to better incorporate hazard planning in what we build today.

This commentary is derived prinicipally from CAENZ papers on landuse and natural hazards. It is supplemented by comments from leaders in both research and practice. Many of these comments were acquired through interviews. Additional content was supplied by the editors and the editorial support team.


What you can do

The effects of natural hazard events are likely to be much greater if people are not aware of natural hazard risks and not prepared to respond to emergencies. The Waikato Civil Defence and Emergency Management Group website has information on:

Our Publications pages list a range of pamphlets and booklets on natural hazards and Civil Defence.

Find out more about the natural or human-induced hazards potentially affecting your home or town by contacting your city or district council (e.g. LIM reports).

Go back to the hazards and emergency management page to learn more about natural hazards in the Waikato region.